Cosmology Fine tuning Intelligent Design

“To what can science appeal if not evidence?” Rob Sheldon responds

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Re the ENV post, Question for multiverse theorists: To what can science appeal, if not evidence?, from experimental physicist and our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon:

It is part of the 21st century deconstruction, that it is not enough to oppose the truth, but it is necessary to undermine even the possibility of holding the truth.

In physics it is the multiverse.
In psychology it is the denial of free will or consciousness.
In biology it is denial of teleology, the necessity of naturalism.
In ethics it is not “situational” anymore; it is the desire to see all ethics as “oppressive”.

Consider the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on fine-tuning. I tried reading it, and it echoes the same refrain, the same death of philosophy. You can’t do philosophy unless you love the truth. If truth is somehow a product of method, somehow a product of the latest fad in argumentation, then all hope is lost.

Fine tuning is a physicist’s internal debate: Brandon Carter’s definition, John Barrow/Frank Tipler’s “weak anthropic principle”, Victor Stenger’s critique, and Luke Barne’s book are all written by physicists. None of them, I would argue, understand Bayes Theorem and its applicability to fine tuning. Nor did the Stanford article engage them on physics, simply stating that some of them like multiverses/naturalness/inflation and some do not.

Already I see this as a problem. We have become so specialized, that no one feels competent to critique another’s field—despite the glaring fact that m/n/i are not physical theories but metaphysical theories. If a philosopher can’t recognize when physicists are doing metaphysics, then he is failing his training, and might as well let Larry Krauss exterminate them all!

To my delight, the Stanford article does jump into Bayes Theorem, so unlike the physicists, the author has learned something of logic. But to my dismay he totally misses the point of Bayes Theorem. This is a subtle enough point that I will need to write another book on this topic, but the point of probability is not winning card games, nor solving QM problems. The point of probability is to convince us, to affect belief, to subjectively change our conscious behavior. Edwin Jaynes, the physicist who reintroduced the world to Bayes Theorem, kept saying that probability measures the level of our ignorance.

Now pause, and ask yourself—is ignorance an objective property? Can I say confidently, I am 50% ignorant of the results of a test? Or, I’ll trade my ignorance for yours? Rather, is not ignorance a consciousness property, a self-awareness property, a property only humans can understand?

For example, Roy Spencer (a UAH meteorologist who has a blog talking about global warming), said that hurricanes are unpredictable things. He gave the example of a man struck by lightning while golfing, and on his ambulance ride to the hospital, lightning struck the vehicle again, finishing him off. I reply, who, upon hearing that story, doesn’t say “Whoa, what did the man do to deserve that?” Improbable events are events that change our perspective, that speak to our self-consciousness, that appeal to our subjective understanding. The list of sermon illustrations that make this point is endless–I will cite only one. One summer I came within seconds of drowning in a riptide in the Gulf of Mexico–five others died that day, but when 3 rollers failed to materialize, my son was able to dash into the surf and pull me to safety. A few weeks later, I was on the Interstate at 70mph when my driver lost control and skidded over the median strip making a head-on collision with a Suburban. I stepped out of the Camry without a scratch. Then a few weeks after that on Colorado route 84 descending from the top of 12,000 ft Independence Pass approaching a switchback my brakes caught fire and faded away. A few weeks later I asked my wife, “Do you think God is trying to tell me something?”

Probabilities are difficult for scientists (look at the number of interpretations of QM), and are difficult for analytic philosophers (cf this Stanford article), precisely because they are subjective. Everything in Enlightenment objectivity rebels against the thought that “is” might lead to “ought”, that facts produce ethics, that observation leads to teleology. The rebellion against ID is the same rebellion against natural theology, against fine tuning, against the existence of a personal (self-conscious, subjective) Creator. The subjective is bad, is unreliable, is to be avoided at all costs.

Look over the list of objections in this Stanford article on fine-tuning.” They all fall into the category of “So what?”. Only one chance in 10^10^150 that this universe is an accident? So what. Only one chance in 10^40000 that life can accidentally form? So what, I’m here, so impersonal miracles which have nothing to do with God can happen. Other philosophers show that this is a ridiculous argument? So what, there’s no accounting for taste.

The peculiar thing is that such people are very sensitive to the slightest 0.05 change in their investments and retirements, but can’t be bothered with calculating the chances for their eternal destiny. They do understand numbers, they simply refuse to let numbers speak to their conscience. They have performed a frontal lobotomy on the ethical center of their brain, they have stuffed cotton in the ears of their conscience, they have sold their soul for a mess of pottage, and reply like the character in “O brother, where art thou”, “well, I wasn’t using it anyway.” Professing to be wise, they have adopted the logic of fools.

We will neither regain the high ground of philosophy nor the fertile results of physics until we can once again find teleology in the cosmos, once again wed physics to metaphysics, once again find “ought” in “is.”

See also: Post-modern physics: String theory gets over the need for evidence

Cosmic inflation theory loses hangups about the scientific method 

The multiverse is science’s assisted suicide

and

What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?

11 Replies to ““To what can science appeal if not evidence?” Rob Sheldon responds

  1. 1
    critical rationalist says:

    The peculiar thing is that such people are very sensitive to the slightest 0.05 change in their investments and retirements, but can’t be bothered with calculating the chances for their eternal destiny.

    Can you explain what ones eternal destiny has to do with whether the universe was fine tuned for life? It’s unclear what one has to do with the other. Some designer could fine tune the universe so people can live for 80 years or so, which ends in nothingness.

    So, for the sake of argument, even it there was some kind of evidence that the universe was fine tuned by a designer, which I’m not suggesting, so what? You can’t get to etenal life, Jesus etc. from there.

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    CR, if there is a designer then it follows we are designed and hence have a purpose not necessarily of our choosing.

    You are right in that merely recognizing the existence of a fine-tuned universe doesn’t reveal our purpose. That takes further consideration.

    But recognizing that is the first step in recognizing that we don’t get to choose everything.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    To what can science appeal if not evidence?

    Inference!

  4. 4
    Origenes says:

    Rob Sheldon: The rebellion against ID …

    Rebellion is the correct term. Last evening I had a ‘discussion’ with the 20 year old son of a good friend. The 20-year old talked like a 12-year old know-it-all. Nothing I said was relevant; everything was countered with “so what?”

    Rob Sheldon: Only one chance in 10^10^150 that this universe is an accident? So what. Only one chance in 10^40000 that life can accidentally form? So what, I’m here, so impersonal miracles which have nothing to do with God can happen. Other philosophers show that this is a ridiculous argument? So what, there’s no accounting for taste.

    Naturalism means that life is meaningless. So what? That dead is dead. So what? No love. So what? No justice. So what? No consciousness. So what? No rationality. So what?

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    The rebellion against ID is the same rebellion against natural theology, against fine tuning, against the existence of a personal (self-conscious, subjective) Creator. The subjective is bad, is unreliable, is to be avoided at all costs

    You talk about “a personal (self-conscious, subjective) Creator” yet, when atheists criticize such an assumption, we are told by other believers that we are attacking a naïve, simplistic version of God, that Christianity has a much more sophisticated, nuanced, abstract concept of a deity. So which is it? What is it?

    Whatever it is, it seems to have problems with communication. Are you really saying that the only way an omniscient, omnipotent deity can get a message across is to arrange a series of accidents in which the intended recipient has several close brushes with death? Is it really beyond the wit of God to speak directly to the intended recipient and just tell them what He wants? As a scientist, wouldn’t you say that sounds a little absurd?

    For example, Roy Spencer (a UAH meteorologist who has a blog talking about global warming), said that hurricanes are unpredictable things. He gave the example of a man struck by lightning while golfing, and on his ambulance ride to the hospital, lightning struck the vehicle again, finishing him off. I reply, who, upon hearing that story, doesn’t say “Whoa, what did the man do to deserve that?”

    I don’t. I might make some comment about really bad luck but I wouldn’t assume it had anything to do with deserving it. If we are assuming some sort of multi-omni deity why would it bother with two lightning strikes when it could erase the unfortunate victim from existence with a Jedi-lie wave of the divine hand? What’s wrong with it just being an accident? Don’t hugely improbable events happen all the time? Or does a prior commitment to a purposeful deity entail rejecting the possibility that there can be hugely improbable events that have no purpose at all?

  6. 6
    critical rationalist says:

    CR, if there is a designer then it follows we are designed and hence have a purpose not necessarily of our choosing.

    First, the subject was if the universe was designed, not human beings. Again, you can’t get there from that.

    Second, I’d again point out that we could be the result of some great compromise between an entire group of designers, in which none of got what they really wanted. Or we could be the result of unexpected consequences, etc.

    And I thought it was evolution proponents who didnt do many thought experiments?

    Oh, that’s right. Everyone knows ID’s designer is actually God.

  7. 7
    tribune7 says:

    –First, the subject was if the universe was designed, not human beings. Again, you can’t get there from that.–

    So your point would be that just because the universe was designed human beings were not necessarily so. That certainly is an interesting point but what was the universe designed for? Once you recognize a designer (or group of designers) you have to ask the question.

    Following existing ID standards leads one, however, to conclude that DNA is designed hence accepting a fine-tuned universe via ID would also lead one to conclude that earthly life including humans was designed.

    And speculation about groups of designers are allowed in ID.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    This is a subtle enough point that I will need to write another book on this topic, but the point of probability is not winning card games, nor solving QM problems. The point of probability is to convince us, to affect belief, to subjectively change our conscious behavior.

    Oh dear, no. That would be the point of decision theory, but that’s not the only use of probability. The point of probability theory is to provide a coherent mechanism for calculating odds of events. This might lead to changes in conscious behaviour, but then again it might not.

  9. 9
    critical rationalist says:

    So your point would be that just because the universe was designed human beings were not necessarily so. That certainly is an interesting point but what was the universe designed for?

    The possibilities are endless. Could be that the deity got boared and created a universe just to see what would happen. Or a vast number of other reasons. Again, I have asked the question. And I’ve realized that it’s unclear why my intuitions or conjectured ideas about what any such being’s intention was would actually match reality.

    Again, I thought it was just biologists that didn’t do thought experiments?

  10. 10
    tribune7 says:

    –Could be that the deity got boared and created a universe just to see what would happen. Or a vast number of other reasons. —

    Or maybe it’s something like “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” and some malevolent deity has created you to suffer in extreme torment forever for its sadistic pleasure.

  11. 11
    Querius says:

    To what can science appeal if not evidence?

    It’s obvious. The big three are Emotional Intelligence, Ideological Compatibility, and Scientific Consensus.

    Scientific Evidence, by itself, can easily mislead the public and must first be correctly interpreted by qualified, vetted professionals. In addition, scientific knowledge must serve the cause of justice, otherwise it simply becomes a tool for Fascism and white supremacy.

    That’s why Quantum Mechanics is obviously a Fascist theory promoted by male, white supremacists, and thus unacceptable to Science.

    -Q

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